Take a deep breath… or not? Does air pollution and weather affect migraine around the globe?

Dozens of thoughts run through our minds every minute, but how vital to life are they? One of the biggest players in our overall health is all around us, yet easily overlooked – the quality of the air we are breathing.

Air pollution is real. And it takes everyone working together globally to make an impact. We, as individuals, can only do so much, right?

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that “Nine out of 10 people breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits, containing high levels of pollutants, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures.”

Do you know the easiest ways to contribute to cleaner air? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers many tips to incorporate into our daily routine that can make a difference. The ones that stand out to me are: carpool, bike, or walk, when possible, conserve energy at home/work, and regularly service and maintain your automobiles. More tips can be found at: https://www3.epa.gov/region1/airquality/reducepollution.html

In addition to pollutants, just the variances of weather impact us. “Weather is perceived by patients with migraine as a common trigger of migraine headache.”*

Truth be told, I feel my best when there’s a bit of chill in the air. And this is not how it used to be. I was always the “summer girl.” There came a turning point upon the inception of migraine in my life. Now I’m the hat, sunscreen, and sunglass girl – and I’m happy about it. I know my body and my future self is thanking me.

“Higher relative humidity was associated with higher odds of migraine headache” during the months of April-September.*

During cold seasons, “traffic-related gaseous pollutants may be associated with higher odds of migraine headache onset.”*

“Migraine is a chronic and agonizing neurological disorder prevalent worldwide.”** Simply put, migraine is bigger than all of us. And there are many factors, triggers, solutions, and outcomes. It’s not linear.

In addition to weather, “noise and odors, as well as demographic factors have been considered as risk factors of migraine.”**

While research and findings on the topic have been controversial, “migraineurs worldwide consistently report similar environmental triggers.” Certain triggers noted by migraine patients include “barometric pressure change, bright sunlight, flickering lights, air quality and odors.”

Speaking solely for myself, sunglasses are nearly always on and I’ll wear a mask if there’s noticeable brush fire smoke in the air or gaseous smells while I pump gas in my car. Understanding that I am exposed to other environmental factors and toxic materials just by going about my day-to-day life, when I smell their presence – I take action. I try not to give potential migraine triggers a chance.

I tend to find much more comfort on a brisk morning in a coastal community. Or in the morning after a hard rain. While the rain may be washing away the toxicity in our environment, it also feels like I am inhaling all the goodness the universe has to offer.

I recall a trip to Colorado Springs and upon departing from the airport, the fresh clean air of the area swept over me in the most remarkable way. It woke me up. It nourished my body. And at that given moment in time, I so needed that.

A survey conducted “of 115 female Mexican-American migraineurs between ages 15-45 years living in San Diego County found weather changes to be a precipitating factor in 54.4% [of their headaches].”***

To me, that is a staggering statistic.

A study which interviewed German citizens “revealed that 19.2% of Germans thought that the weather affected their health ‘to a strong degree,’ and 35.2% felt that the weather had ‘some influence on their health.’”  The most commonly reported health issues due to weather – headache and migraine!

“The air around you has weight, and it presses against everything it touches. That pressure is called atmospheric pressure, or air pressure.” https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/atmospheric-pressure/

This pressure is traditionally measured with a barometer. “Atmospheric pressure drops as altitude increases.” And “as the pressure decreases, the amount of oxygen available to breathe also decreases,” according to National Geographic.

A study conducted on post-airline travel in Israel resulted in 5.7% having reported flight-associated headaches. “With so many migraineurs citing weather and barometric pressure changes as migraine triggers, one would expect air travel to produce migraines as well.”***

My migraine episodes do not seem to be triggered by barometric pressure, but I do have a close friend who experiences significant migraine problems with it. I would love to see the research unfold on this topic in the near future. I go back to – the more we know, the better prepared we can be, which in turn diminishes our time spent unwell.

Noise and light.  I’ve learned I’m not alone when it comes to preferences and triggers with both of these. When I’m ill with a migraine – I need silence and a dim to dark setting. When we think about it though, excessive noise, argumentative tones, or anything that is escalating our blood pressure and anxiety doesn’t serve us well when we are struggling with an invisible illness.

Another key element is age and air quality and the impact on illnesses. As we know, outdoor air pollution can lead to a handful of the “world’s leading causes of death:  stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases.”**** As displayed in the following chart, persons over the age of 70 are at increased risk of premature mortality due to outdoor air pollution.

Then, you must factor in location.  “There is a ten-fold difference between the highest rates globally” with Egypt having “the highest date rate” (114 deaths per 100,000) and Sweden, Finland, and New Zealand (less than 10 per 100,000).  Death rates are primarily increased across middle income countries (Egypt, Asia, Central Europe, India, China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh).”****

“Death rates tend to rise as countries shift from low to middle-income through industrialization, before falling again at higher incomes as both air pollution and overall health improves.”****

Death rates and pollution

As we are aware, accessibility to medicine, the financial means to help a person towards better health, and the time to dedicate to an endeavor aren’t equal for each person. It’s with great hope that The Honest Migraine bridges the gap, at least insofar as being the “Internet neighborhood group” that helps one another.

I hope this segment has allowed you to take a broader look at all the triggers that may be impacting your health.

*Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019300662

**Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412018312704

**Source: https://headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdfdirect/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2009.01443.x

****Source: https://ourworldindata.org/outdoor-air-pollution#outdoor-air-pollution-deaths-by-age

Coming next: Are you one of 1.4 billion people globally who have this dangerous disorder, but don’t know it?

Please consider sharing this article with family, friends, neighbors, coworkers.  Let’s help each other reach optimal health.  


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